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Kerala Govt announces judicial probe into stampede

Kochi: The Kerala government on Saturday announced a judicial enquiry into the stampede near the famed Sabarimala temple even as latest reports indicate that the mishap on Friday night claimed the lives of 102 pilgrims and injured more than 60 people.

The State government will also disburse Rs 5 lakh each to the families of the pilgrims who were killed in the accident, the chief minister V S Achuthanandan announced while briefing reporters after a meeting with state ministers, people’s representatives and officials at the accident site. Those with serious injuries will be given a relief of Rs 50,000 each and Rs 25,000 each will be given to those with less serious injuries. The Prime Minister has already announced that the Centre would give another Rs 1 lakh each to the families of deceased and Rs 50,000 each to injured.

The State government has made elaborate arrangements for carrying out rescue and relief operations and the Central government, particularly the Defence ministry is lending all possible support. The Indian Navy has already sent in a medical team through helicopter for supporting the relief operations.

Meanwhile several versions are still emerging about the root cause which triggered the stampede even after nearly 20 hours of the mishap. One version is that it began when a jeep lost control and ran into the pilgrims. The relatives of the injured pilgrims had reportedly clashed with those inside the jeep, and smashed it. The ensuing chaos and panic were aggravated by rumours of wild elephants and tigers moving towards the crowds.

The mishap occured at Uppupara near Vandiperiyar in an area inside the Periyar tiger reserve. The Sabarimala devaswom authorities seemed to have been completely caught off-guard by the accident as the Uppupara forest route is an alternative and less used as compared to the main Sabarimala route through Pampa. There were some thin security arrangements in place at the Uppupara route. This forest route is evidently more ardours, but pilgrims reportedly have a feeling that enduring the hardships of the rough terrains will make them spiritually more pious. Also some of the top hill spots provide vantage view of `makara jyothi ritual’, the celestial lamp that glows from the skies above the shrine and attracts lakhs of pilgrims every year during this time.

The other version is that lots of light vehicles including autorikshaws and jeeps were illegally ferrying pilgrims from Vandiperiyar to Uppupara and two of them had turned turtle because of overcrowding. The inmates of the two vehicles had then exchanged blows and smashed each other’s vehicles, and this led to stampede.

The chief minister also declined to dwell on what could possibly have triggered the stampede and merely said the cause for the mishap will be known after a judicial enquiry. The Kerala government has declared a public holiday on Saturday and three days of mourning in view of the tragedy. The bodies of 70 have been identified and their names have been published in the website of the State Disaster Management Authority (www.sdma.kerala.gov.in). Steps have also been taken for conducting the post-mortem of the bodies quickly and to send back them to their houses.

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